༺ The Empire (1) ༻
Another uneventful week passed. After a week that almost ended with Aisha falling out after sticking her head out the window from boredom, the group arrived at the Empire.
Once again, Aisha’s excitement was bursting.
Aisha’s heart fluttered at the scene in front of her.
A long, high wall with no end in sight. A great palace rising majestically beyond the walls. And a tower floating in the sky as far as the eye could see.
Aisha turned to Vera with sparkly eyes, and asked him a question.
“Vera! That’s the Magic Tower, right?”
“Do wizards live there?”
“Then, you think the knights live there?”
Normally, Vera’s snide remarks would have gotten on Aisha’s nerves, but not this time. No, it’s more accurate to say that it couldn’t.
The main attraction of the Freich Empire’s capital, Farvan, was the Magic Tower, Aurillac.
She was engrossed by its grandeur.
Vera let out a big sigh upon seeing Aisha, who was leaning out of the carriage once again. Then, he turned to Norn, who was driving the carriage.
“Sir Norn, how long do you think the inspection will take?”
“Hmm, it looks like it’s going to take a little longer. Since there is a festival for the Foundation Day, the traffic is…”
Norn’s voice trailed off. There was a hint of distress in his voice.
Renee, who sensed that, smiled and answered instead of Vera.
“It’s okay, don’t worry about it.”
“Ah… I apologize.”
It was the Foundation Day festival.
“The festival is still a month away, but it’s already getting crowded.”
“Yes, because it’s the only time when the market gets bigger.”
It was a situation Vera was somewhat familiar with. It had been an annual event for him in his previous life.
The month-long celebration of the Empire’s Foundation was so huge that it had been called the ‘largest festival on the continent’.
There were merchants who flew in goods from all over the continent to buyers and tourists, and other merchants who set up stalls to sell to the tourists.
It was a festival that attracted a lot of people, so a ton of people came in early to prepare for it.
Vera looked at Renee, who nodded a little and had a look of understanding, and he continued.
“I think we came at the right time. There are a lot of night markets during the festival and I think that the Saint will thoroughly enjoy it.”
Renee felt her heart skip a beat at the word ‘night market’.
She knew what a night market would mean: a ‘date’ with Vera, a ‘late night’ date.
Of course, that wasn’t what she’d come to the Empire for! They came to help Dovan and Aisha, but they might as well enjoy themselves while they were here!
It was not just any place, it was the capital of the Empire. It was the safest city on the continent, where the most dangerous thing that could happen would be an argument with a street thug.
It would be a great place to set aside future problems and try to make some progress.
As she thought of that, a passionate flame started burning inside her.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
“You won’t be disappointed. I happen to know quite a bit about the festival, so I’ll guide you properly.”
It wouldn’t be a mistake to interpret those words as ‘I’ll escort you.’
Renee wanted to believe it so badly.
Renee nodded with satisfaction. The corners of her mouth were twitching for some reason.
She was in a good mood.
In the midst of it all, Renee suddenly flinched at the image that flashed through her mind and forcibly composed herself.
‘…The Second Prince.’
A person of interest. A man who might be her ‘love rival’.
She still didn’t know much about him yet, but just in case.
You can never be careful when it comes to love.
Renee hoped that she would never have to take out the sword in her cane.
In First Street of the Empire.
In the reception room of a mansion known as ‘the most expensive land on the continent,’ Renee sat with a tense expression.
“Vera, I think…”
Even if she couldn’t see it, she knew.
The moment they arrived at First Street, the atmosphere of the surroundings suddenly changed. Upon arriving at the mansion Marie had told them about, they were greeted by a considerable number of servants. Also, their attitude.
Vera nodded at Renee’s unfinished words.
“Yes, it’s a noble’s mansion.”
Renee’s shoulders were restless. She could not hide the tremble in her voice.
“…I never would have thought that Marie was a noble of the Empire.”
“Yes, it’s a bit of a surprise for me as well.”
“I…is it alright? Would there be an affiliation issue?”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. As for Marie, she should have renounced her nobility, including her surname.”
To enter the Holy Kingdom meant to erase all previous statuses and stand before God’s altar as a mere human.
“Her husband is in the Imperial Inspection Department, right? Probably, Marie is not here as a noble, but as his wife. As long as she doesn’t participate in any political activities, the Holy Kingdom has no reason to restrain her.”
Renee nodded. Vera’s explanation roughly clarified everything.
But, in the midst of that, she had a thought.
“You know, Marie’s husband must be pretty wonderful to have waited so long for her, even though he had to be away from her the whole time.”
It was about Marie’s husband.
She thought that Marie’s relationship with her husband was so romantic. They were both living different lives but were woven together as one.
‘I want to have that kind of relationship with Vera.’
While Renee was deep in thought, Vera answered.
“…Yes, it’s not something anyone can just do.”
As Vera answered, his mind was thinking about the owner of the mansion. Vera knew this because he had the list of names of nobles and their residences memorized.
This was his mansion.
He was the Head of the Imperial Inspection Department, a terminal workaholic man who chased after Vera all the time in his past life. A man whose life was tied with his integrity.
‘I never thought that he was Marie’s husband…’
Vera was restless. It had nothing to do with his life right now, but still, it was an emotion regarding his past life.
Two conflicting emotions intertwined, and after a long silence, the door of the living room opened and Marie came inside.
She looked put together, so different from how she was in the Great Woodlands.
“Oh my, sorry I’m late!”
“Ah, Lady Marie.”
“Huh? Oh~ what did the Saint eat to get this pretty in just a few months? Huh? Tell me your secret. Ah, Vera got cooler, too. What’s that on your waist? You changed your sword? Ah, look at me…”
Marie poured out a continuous stream of chatter as soon as she entered.
Renee and Vera’s faces began to show signs of embarrassment.
Just as they were about to be mentally exhausted, Marie’s chatter finally ended.
No, she just stopped for a while.
Renee was swept with a sense of urgency that she would never get to say what she had to, so she took advantage of the silence and spoke quickly.
She recounted what had happened, starting with what happened to Dovan and Aisha after they left the Great Woodlands, to how it was resolved and what their business here was.
Renee, who had spilled it all out at once without taking a break because she didn’t want Marie to interrupt her, drew in a sharp breath after she was done.
She felt like her head ran out of oxygen. Her lips were drying up from talking too fast.
“Have some water, Saint.”
Renee took the glass of water that was offered to her, and after gulping it down, she waited for Marie’s answer.
Marie’s eyes narrowed, but then her face brightened up, and she nodded in response.
“Oh, so something like that happened? Seems like you went through a lot. Alright, I’ll take you when I go back.”
“Ah, thank you. Then, how long will you be in the Empire?”
“Hmm? I was planning on joining the banquet for Foundation Day.”
“Yes, it is also the Second Prince’s coming-of-age ceremony. I’ve been asked to go to give him a blessing.”
The Second Prince.
Renee’s fingers twitched at the mention of his name because of nervousness.
“Is that so…!”
She tried to stay calm.
However, Vera, who was listening from her side, saw it a little differently.
It was as if Renee were being conscious of the Second Prince.
Vera’s expression turned sour again for no apparent reason. It just happened because he didn’t like that.
Meanwhile, Marie, who had been watching the two of them from across the table, brightened up suddenly and spoke up.
“Ah, that’s right! Would you like to come to the banquet, Saint? It would be better if you gave a blessing instead of me, wouldn’t it? It would be a good thing for the Empire and for my husband! Hmm? Could you do this for me, please?”
Renee returned it with a question, then Vera trembled behind her. A deep panic began to form on his face.
Of course, the first thing that popped out of his mouth was rejection.
“…It’s dangerous. The Saint’s trail should not be disclosed. Moreover, the Emperor must be looking for the Saint. On the day that she received her stigma, the Empire has been keeping an eye on her, so it’s only right that she remains hidden.”
He had some fair points. What he said was the truth, no hint of emotions, nor giving away the fact that he didn’t want Renee and the Second Prince to meet each other.
However, Marie’s words quickly crushed Vera’s objections.
“Come on, there are many Apostles here, how could it be dangerous? Also, His Majesty is no fool to make such a bold move. If so, let’s bring another guy from the Holy Kingdom. I heard that Rohan is out here having fun, so we can bring him with us. He also likes festivities, so it’s perfect!”
Vera’s eyes widened and he glared at Marie.
Marie responded with a wink, then she thought.
‘Seriously, this guy…’
She realized that if she pushed him a little more, something good might happen.
“What do you think, Saint?”
Marie’s words made Renee wonder.
Was it alright to go?
Was it alright for the two of them to meet?
Wouldn’t the Second Prince, who’s a homosexual, fall for Vera?
…It was a meaningless concern. Moreover, if the Second Prince was not a homosexual, or even if he was, if he wasn’t interested in Vera, then her concerns were just pointless.
However, Renee doesn’t have the luxury right now to think that far ahead.
To Renee, Vera was the most charming person in the world, and as such, he was the one person she was always worried about.
It was a biased speculation that since she fell for Vera, everyone else would too.
Based on that thought, Renee was about to reject the proposal.
She shut her mouth close when she suddenly remembered what Marie had just said.
Only a fool would do something like that in the middle of the Empire, in front of a crowd.
It was about the Emperor, but it applied to the Second Prince as well. Even if the Second Prince fell for Vera, he couldn’t do anything in front of a crowd. So, she could observe the Second Prince without any risks.
Renee, who always felt like an idiot whenever she thought about Vera, rarely felt her mind wander.
‘…It might be good to confirm.’
The distinction between friend and foe hadn’t been made yet. Hostility could come after checking it out herself.
“…I’ll do it.”
Renee nodded with a stiff face.
‘If you are my rival…’
It was then that she thought she might actually be using her cane as a sword.
“Ohh! You’re so much nicer than Vera! Yes, that’s what it takes for someone to have the courage to move forward!”
Marie clapped her hands together and nodded at Renee’s answer, and Vera’s face was full of disappointment.
Marie was the only one happy.